Two Distinct Stories Emerge from Night of Occupy Philly's Eviction

Protesters claim police brutality, but the media say otherwise.

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 28 | Posted Dec. 6, 2011

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When rumors began to swirl that police were gearing up to clear Dilworth Plaza early Tuesday evening, there were more media than Occupiers occupying the plaza. But soon, sympathizers, gawkers and more media rushed in to watch—and document—a very visual ending to the 56-day Tent City.

By sunrise, 52 arrests were made and 27 tons of trash were removed from the plaza. The concrete apron around City Hall was cleaner than it has been in years. Everyone can agree on this much.

Since then, two distinct stories have emerged, and they have irreconcilable differences. Local news documented a few rough moments: a woman’s foot was injured when a PPD horse charged a crowd; a cop “rammed” a guy with his bike; and three officers were injured. But the general consensus has been, as the Inky put it, “compared to the violent confrontations that have occurred in other cities between Occupiers and the police, the night’s pain was minimal.”

But in a press conference held last Friday, Occupy activists one by one venomously disputed those reports, referring to the “overwhelming use of force” and “absolute rancor and violence.”

“I’m here to speak out against police brutality, my incident and the many, many incidents that happened that night,” said Vanessa Marie Graber, one of Occupy’s more visible activists.

“Out of nowhere, a police officer charged his horse into a crowd of peaceful protesters and journalists and I was knocked over and injured,” continued Graber. She wouldn’t specify her injuries due to legal concerns. Her foot was encased in a blue Velcro soft cast.

The press conference quickly devolved from a declaration of Occupy’s future to an indictment of the media, which, as almost any Occupier (and Will Bunch of the Daily News) can tell you, Keep Getting It Wrong—this time, about the prevalence of police brutality.

An Inky reporter challenged the Occupier’s version of events. “I was there all night and so were my colleagues,” the reporter said. “They saw nothing of what is being described here, and certainly to accuse reporters of lying is a really serious charge.”

While the reporter was talking, a young woman, presumably an Occupier, stood up, approached the reporter, crouched down and whispered, “I think you are taking this personally. It’s getting really uncomfortable, do you know what I mean?”

“Reporters, journalists have not spent a great amount of time [at Dilworth Plaza],” thundered Graber. “They come to events, and they interview random people, and they don’t really get the story right because they don’t have relationships with the people that are involved. They don’t know who the quote-unquote leaders are of this movement.”

(At least Occupy is finally admitting there is leadership—though self-identified Occupy PR people still request to be quoted as only “a member,” keeping attribution and accountability circuitous.)

But you don’t need “the right phone numbers” plugged into your cell to take a good look around.

PW had four reporters on the scene the night of the eviction. None said they saw police brutality. All said they saw protesters provoking the police.

Reporter Michael Alan Goldberg followed what he poetically called “the game of Center City Pac Man” marches from midnight to morning. “Overall, based on what I saw, the police were pretty restrained,” says Goldberg. “Every now and then they’d shove someone with a bike, and I saw a couple needless elbows given to protesters without provocation. But I also saw protesters purposely crowding bike cops—riding at the edges of the march, on the sidewalks, against buildings—provoking the cops to push their bikes against marchers to get free.”

“I saw a couple people grabbed by cops and swung around by their clothes, a couple others tackled,” he adds. “But nothing I would term brutality in any way.”

Reporter Randy LoBasso followed the crowd from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. He said the police were “very subdued.”

“I could not believe what the police were letting the Occupiers get away with,” says LoBasso. “Protesters locked arms across the street and onto the sidewalk so police could not get by, and when they tried, police that pushed their way through, were pushed back by protesters, yet did not retaliate ... Every time a protester started a scuffle with police, and police fought back, the protester and everyone … would raise their hands and say they were all “peaceful” when they were not.”

As Occupiers’ allegations of widespread police brutality surfaced last week, one co-worker who has spent a lifetime chasing police corruption sighed, “I can’t believe I’m defending the po-po.”

Some protesters explain the disconnect by claiming all reporters and cameras must have been in different places than the alleged “many, many” police beatings. Then there are semantics—conversations reveal that when some say “excessive force,” they are referring simply to the number of police and the military quality of their gear, not to any particular action.

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Comments 1 - 28 of 28
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1. Tanksleyd said... on Dec 6, 2011 at 09:37PM

“There were 1,000 cameras and 2,000 video cameras that night and not one image of police brutality....The Occupiers are losing their credibility.

Here's another truth: From day one the WHOLE GOAL was to have a confrontation upon eviction. Police commissioner Ramsey, who apparently had experience from his days in Washington DC, literally and symbolically outflanked the leaderless, aimless and clueless.

Meanwhile President Obama's J.O.B.B.S. Bill (Job Opportunity with Balanced Budget Strategy) languished in need of one popular push.

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2. Video doesn't lie said... on Dec 6, 2011 at 11:20PM

“Re: Occupy Philly's claims that the police horses charged them for no reason: I was watching the Action News livefeed when this incident happened. There were about 4 cops on horses with a large crowd of protesters all around them. The protesters were the ones who charged the cops! The police were telling them to back up but throngs of protesters were pushing up against them, yelling. The one horse looked like it got spooked and it started jumping and bucking, I thought the cop was going to get thrown off. This is when the horse landed on the girl's foot. The next day I saw that Occupy Philly was alleging that the police had used the horses as weapons against them but if anything, these people were provoking and scaring the horses. It's a wild animal, you can't expect it to not get spooked when a large crowd of people is rushing at it and screaming, that's common knowledge. All the police need to do is get the video off Action News, it was crystal clear what happened.”

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3. theclassytaxi said... on Dec 6, 2011 at 11:38PM

“I was there to bare witness, not as an occupier or as a member of the media, and I witnessed no acts of brutality. I stood beside Ramsey at numerous points in the night, watched everyone get put on the busses, chased police and protesters around, and I saw nothing of the sort. I certainly sympathize with the global movement, to a large extent, and this is wiping away what sympathy I have left for this local chapter.”

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4. PW is better than this said... on Dec 7, 2011 at 12:00AM

“6abc has video of the horse up on the sidewalk after rushing the crowd. The horse was already out of control after the officer had pushed it to go onto the sidewalk ahead of the other officers and horses. The other horses remained on the street while, this one officer lost control and his horse charged the sidewalk.

I think PW needs to clarify what they consider "police brutality". Michael Alan Goldberg (and I hate the stuck-up tone this reporter has had throughout his coverage of Occupy Philly) is quoted in this article as saying: “I saw a couple people grabbed by cops and swung around by their clothes, a couple others tackled.” That sounds somewhat excessive to me, and that's only the tip of the iceberg. Yes, no one was shot. No one was pepper sprayed. But there definitely was some excessive force amiss on the streets of Philadelphia. The first indication of that is that there were a reported 500 police officers compared to about 100-150 nonviolent but rowdy protestors.”

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5. One more said... on Dec 7, 2011 at 12:20AM

“Also, I would say the cases of excessive force that came from a certain few individual police officers and civil affairs officers did not reflect the majority of PPD who were out that night acting professionally in keeping their cool. The bottom line is that there were some bad seeds in uniforms on Wednesday morning whose actions (putting unarmed civilians in choke holds, punching civilians, trampling civilians with horses, using bicycles as weapons against civilians, "swinging [people] around by their clothes and tackling others", etc) were uncalled for and need to be brought to attention by the media.”

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6. Anonymous said... on Dec 7, 2011 at 12:27AM

“It's true that the police did not use pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets. Brutality needs to be defined more clearly. But regardless, some of the actions by the police were excessive. Just because TB sucks less than cancer doesn't mean that TB does not suck.”

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7. Anonymous said... on Dec 7, 2011 at 12:31AM

“I saw Smith bleeding from his head after a bike cop clocked him with a baton (unnecessarily) -- with all of the police down there, do you think that someone needed to be struck in the head in order to be subdued? The senior police officer knew the cop was out of line and tried to block our taking photos of the police officer who hit Smith (I do have his picture). So much for their "1,000" cameras and commitment to transparency. I guess you guys would've only settled for someone being pepper-sprayed or nearly killed -- but, unlike other protests, Philly Occupiers willingly gave up Dilworth Plaza without resisting. There was no need for ANY force. There was no need to spend hours following us and creating random bike cop obstacles when we were walking down streets on sidewalks (without any explanation or announcement of where we would be allowed to congregate). I guess police intimidation and the huge number of illegal arrests for rush hour's sake do not demand coverage or attention?”

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8. Continued from above... said... on Dec 7, 2011 at 12:35AM

“Do we really need people to be shot or maimed in order for the press to acknowledge police abuse or inappropriate behavior? Why can't we have higher expectations for police -- why do we expect them to brutally harm someone who may yell or stick up their middle finger? Don't we expect more from every other citizen? Tara Murtha, I'm not sure what you're looking for or why you think that all the Occupiers, who generally complied with all directly given police orders, were also provoking them. Something's amiss here, and it's not us.”

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9. MAG said... on Dec 7, 2011 at 01:10AM

“#4: To further clarify, the "swung around" and/or "tackling" I witnessed occured in the context of an officer trying to detain/subdue an individual for the purpose of arrest (after a physical altercation with officer/s occurred that was provoked by said individual/s, who was resisting arrest). In no way did this rise to the level of "brutality."

I'm not omniscient, so I didn't see every single thing that occurred that night, but I was right in the middle of the march, with camera and with eyes wide open for police misconduct, for the duration, and saw nothing other than the pushing/shoving and occasional elbow as mentioned in Tara's piece.

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10. A potential reason for missing photo/video said... on Dec 7, 2011 at 01:12AM

“The videos of brutality, or call it excessive force, may be missing from the narratives because it's common to withhold them for use in legal processes before they become public.”

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11. MJK said... on Dec 7, 2011 at 02:55AM

“#9: Michael, first of all, thank you for being there to take photos for the majority of the night. I ask that instead of posting those photos to your blog, you send them to the OP legal collective at”

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12. MJK said... on Dec 7, 2011 at 03:10AM

“Second, I really need to critique you and Tara on your collective journalism as of late. To start, if you are going to write a news article that is blatant biased hearsay please attach a preface that says "The opinions expressed in the article are those of..." It is not enough to have a section titled "News & Opinion". Some people in this country seriously can't differentiate between the two. If you are going to continue to have these articles that give the illusion of representing both sides equally (ex. this article titled "Two Distinct Stories...") actually portray both sides equally without a lean towards misinformation. I mean, what about Mayor Nutter's press conference? You can't agree with him and Ramsey that this was a peaceful eviction, can you? You were there. Americans are tired of having to pick through the egocentric writing of mugwump journalists like you to find the facts. They want to think for themselves and need the facts in order to do so.”

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13. MJK said... on Dec 7, 2011 at 03:28AM

“I mean, what do you guys have against Occupy? Don't you think you are maybe spending too much time trying to force a negative opinion of Occupy on the audience with all of this small detail nitpicking? You wrote three pages on how Occupy complained that some of their members were handled roughly (in your terms) by police and yet no one from the media saw this in excess. You could've spent the same amount of time writing an investigative article about how Goldman Sachs has directly affected the economic decline in Philadelphia neighborhoods.

You don't have to be pro-movement to be pro-message. I really would be surprised if you weren't pro-message in some way. Your jobs aren't the most secure as of today due to the extra stress on independently printed media from the current economy. I'm sure you know that. Why don't you put your efforts back to something more productive and empowering like writing about the actual issues this whole movement is a response to?”

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14. MJK said... on Dec 7, 2011 at 03:50AM

“Michael, this is my final note in this public tirade. What's really bugging me about all this is that your reporting on Occupy makes it seem like the author is purposely avoiding mention of the very real implications of our current world economy that Occupy is bringing the world's attention to. I mentioned this when I commented on your article about the supposed Homeless vs. Occupier tendencies at the encampment. The article's presentation of the homeless was completely desensitized. It lacked the compassion to realize that not only were people living in a tent village outside city hall, but this is what the current situation has brought them to.

I'm going to assume you're in the same camp as the people who yell at people like me to get a job. Well, I do have a job. I'd like to suggest, though, that if your writing continues on the same course of nonchalance we trade jobs. I sure could do a better job of taking a neutral voice in presenting the facts and with lots more compassion too.”

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15. Joshua Scott Albert said... on Dec 7, 2011 at 07:42AM

““I saw a couple people grabbed by cops and swung around by their clothes, a couple others tackled,” he added. “But nothing I would term brutality in any way.”

I agree with the above comment stating that you all need to take a serious look at what you all define as police brutality. If you or I were to grab some and swing them around by their clothes, or tackle them, we would be charged with assault.

It's a sad day when you have to mention that people with badges and guns who are supposed to be upholding the law are the ones breaking, and then they are credited as to " showing restraint". There are many people who provoke me and piss me off who I wish I could shove and tackle, but I can't.
Also it would be nice if PW was to actually do an investigation on how the city lied and said that it was "peaceful, and that no one was hurt". Or maybe try and get the actual financial documents explaining how they wasted over a million dollars with policing OP.”

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16. joshua scott albert said... on Dec 7, 2011 at 07:49AM

“How about a story Charles Ramsey and his back ground with homeland security and breaking up protest. How about a story on how certain organizers of the movement have been followed by under cover police on numerous occasions. How about research on PERF and how the city executed extremely planned out tactics since day to play the media, divide the occupation, get support from the citizens to have us removed, etc. How about a story on how they had local homeless shelters re-directing homeless to OP. It's also a sad day when Ramsey has to order 500 police officers to NOT carry stun guns and pepper spray the night of the eviction because he doesn't trust them to use it wisely. From day one the city played the media like a puppet, and I personally think the jokes on you all. (Not PW specifically )”

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17. brendancalling said... on Dec 7, 2011 at 09:45AM

“MJK doesn't seem to understand the work of journalists. "Critical coverage" isn't the same as "anti-Occupy Philly". I mean, seriously, it's bullshit like this: "What's really bugging me about all this is that your reporting on Occupy makes it seem like the author is purposely avoiding mention of the very real implications of our current world economy that Occupy is bringing the world's attention to."??? DUDE, EVERY FUCKING ARTICLE ABOUT YOU GUYS HAS TALKED ABOUT THE ISSUES YOU'VE ADDRESSED AND HOW THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION HAS CHANGED. Get out of your poor persecuted bubble, you guys fucked this one up for yourselves by starting a pointless fight with the city that anyone with an ounce of foresight could see you would lose.”

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18. What? said... on Dec 7, 2011 at 10:45AM


What are you talking about?! No one "started a fight" with the city -- we started a protest of economic and social equality. The CITY started a fight about it. And when they came to move us from the plaza, WE LEFT. How are you twisting this into being our fault? If the police had just evicted us from Dilworth Plaza, everything would've gone fine. But, no, instead they insisted on following us, blocking us without explanation, cutting off streets (that we should have legally been allowed to walk down), and not telling us why they wanted to play an eternal game of cat and mouse. WE did not cause that. If you want to blame someone, I hear mayor nutter has a facebook page.”

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19. brendancalling said... on Dec 7, 2011 at 11:23AM

“No, you didn't leave. Maybe you haven't been reading the newspaper (i mean, it seems you missed that whole year or more of coverage about the dilworth project), but there was a bunch of jockeying back and forth between occupy and the city about whether or not to leave. You had a big vote about it, remember? And that vote split you up into occupy and "reasonable solutions, remember?

in fact, IIRC, the impending dilworth project was even mentioned at the meeting the night before the occupation, specifically as a reason NOT to occupy the plaza. So no, you didn't vote to leave, you decided to try to block the dilworth project from going forward, by pretending you didn't know about it, and then by pretending it was a project by and for the 1%.

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20. Anonymous said... on Dec 7, 2011 at 11:30AM

“Just a reminder what the Philly police do on a regular basis:

Maybe the media should cover THAT story”

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21. Anonymous said... on Dec 7, 2011 at 11:47AM

“Reporters obviously defending the media to keep their jobs. Obviously.”

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22. cn2004 said... on Dec 7, 2011 at 01:34PM

“This was not a 'movement.' It was a bunch of losers who did little more than shout out a couple of slogans and piss in public. They were looking for an altercation so they could justify their pathetic existence. When that didn't happen, what do they do? They lie and say they were the victims of brutality. This is the end for these whining bitches, and they know it.”

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23. Anonymous said... on Dec 7, 2011 at 04:10PM

“Tara Murtha.... there is something that doesn't smell right with this story. In my opinion the very fact the police showed up in force to evict the protesters was an act of aggression. The occupiers were not hurting anyone and the city could have worked out an alternative sight. The real story should be how the city is spending 50 million dollars to create jobs. How much is that per job? How much will the city have to pay to upkeep Dilworth plaza. There is a reason why it was primarily concrete. Low maintenance and upkeep? How could 50 million be better spent? Perhaps we should fix our road? that would create jobs? Perhaps we should rebuild blighted neighborhoods? That would create jobs? Perhaps we should give tax breaks to those of us paying property tax for the city? Finally, how about a raise for city employees? City employees have not received a raise in 5 years?”

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24. brendancalling said... on Dec 7, 2011 at 05:35PM

“So much of the complaints here are hilarious.
"The real story should be how the city is spending 50 million dollars to create jobs. How much is that per job? How much will the city have to pay to upkeep Dilworth plaza."

"The city" isn't spending $50 million. My understanding is the city is throwing in $10 Million, there's $15 million in a federal "use it or lose it" grant, SEPTA's kicking in a bunch as well. This is not difficult information to obtain. It's all right here, including the expected annual revenues:

I hope, anonymous, that you don't represent the Occupiers, because you are spouting nonsense that's nearly indistinguishable from Tea Bagger bullshit.”

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25. Anonymous said... on Dec 8, 2011 at 06:42AM

“This reminds me of the act up activists who got $300000
For police brutality lawsuits after spitting andshoving the cops at a demonstration
Who finally lost it”

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26. Ronnie Smith said... on Dec 8, 2011 at 05:13PM

“Thanks for mentioning my FB post.”

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27. ting said... on Dec 12, 2011 at 01:06AM

“ ‘,’cheap shoes online,cheap sneakers online,wholesale sneakers online”

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28. Anonymous said... on Dec 12, 2011 at 07:02PM

“"Philly Occupiers willingly gave up Dilworth Plaza without resisting."

this statement is all that needs to be known. the cops could have just gone home after that. why is it acceptable for cops to use such force and intimidation (force and intimidation of any kind) AT ALL? especially considering that OP also announced prior to the eviction that they wouldn't be resisting?

our society is basically welcoming with the police state with closed eyes and open arms....i can't take it.”


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